Provident funds worth eight years not paid to tea workers in Bengal

The cup of refreshing morning tea in front of you has a tale of rampant labour exploitation and corruption. The area of North Bengal, where tea cultivation is the primary industry, has been dealing with a gruesome wave of starvation of more than 1.1 million tea-workers due to low or non-payment of wages, poor ration, fudging of workers' Provident funds and gratuity, and non-existent medical attention. The state of the abandoned labourers is so bad that they survive of tea leaves, local shrubs and small animals like rats, if not die of starvation. Only recently, from April till December, 70 workers died due to chronic hunger and starvation in this region.

 The tea estates of Kalchini and Raimatang, in Alipurduar district of the state, were shut since 2002 due to non-payment of government loans but recommenced work after four years in 2010 after a tripartite meeting. However, the tea estate labourers didn't get respite from their impoverished state. Instead, they continue to face rampant flouting of labour laws. According to the law, each tea garden worker is entitled to receive, apart from their daily wages, provident fund payments, bonuses, gratuity (for retired workers), ration, umbrellas and aprons for working, firewood for cooking, housing, electricity, water, medical care and education facilities. However, the last time the workers got their weekly wages was at least three weeks back and their money under provident fund has not been deposited in the provident fund office since eight years. "I retired in 2006 but I have yet not received my gratuity pay or pension," says Maila Moaktanto Video Volunteers correspondent Harihar Nagbansi. Bikash Mahali, a labourer at the Kalchini tea estate reveals that a group of labourers had gone to the Block District Officer with the problem, demanding immediate action. "She said she can only report this issue to her senior officials, under who's order she may be able to take corrective action," Bikash added. 

A recent report on 273 tea gardens in Bengal demonstrated how, in 2012-13, 41 estates didn’t put a dime into employees’ provident fund accounts. This is a criminal offence, but since most tea plantations are located in remote areas, justice is hard to be reached.

The wages of the tea-estate labourers in North Bengal are the lowest across India at Rs. 95 to Rs. 100 a day whereas the minimum wage paid to unskilled tea labour in Kerala is Rs.254, in Tamil Nadu it is Rs 209, in Karnataka it is Rs 228, and in neighbouring Sikkim it is Rs. 220.

The backlog of unpaid Provident fund and gratuity and implementation of Minimum Wage for tea plantation workers are the need to the hour. Call L.C. Lepcha the Block Development Officer of Alipurduar, West Bengal on +91 -9434746850 and demand better working conditions and pays for the workers who work tirelessly to brig you the refreshing cup of your morning tea. 

This video was made by a Video Volunteers Community Correspondent Hari Nagbansi.

Community Correspondents come from marginalized communities in India and produce videos on unreported stories. These stories are ’news by those who live it.’ They give the hyperlocal context to global human rights and development challenges.

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